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Hard to Love a Brute – James Bond

Roman Mars:
This is 99% invisible. The real Goldfinger was an architect

Roman Mars:
The Best James Bond is either Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. I lean towards Daniel Craig. The new movies are just better, but the Sean Connery films definitely had the best villains. There’s Blofeld of course, who is so iconic that he turned the act of cat-stroking into a thing that supervillains do. But Bond’s flashiest nemesis has to be Goldfinger.

James Bond:
“And you expect me to talk?”

Goldfinger:
“No. Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”

Avery Trufelman:
Do you expect me to talk?

Roman Mars:
Yeah, I expect you to talk.

Avery Trufelman:
There’s this dorky, fun fact that the Bond villain, Goldfinger, was actually named after a real person.

Roman Mars:
That’s Trufelman. Avery Trufelman.

Avery Trufelman:
The author of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming, named Goldfinger for a man he found so dastardly, so terrible that he immortalized him in pop culture.

Roman Mars:
The real Goldfinger was an architect, Ernő Goldfinger. And he made giant, hulking, austere concrete building.

Avery Trufelman:
Goldfinger’s buildings were decreed soulless. Inhabitants claim to suffer health problems and depression from spending time inside them. Some of Goldfinger’s buildings were vacated because occupants found them so ugly.

Roman Mars:
Yet many architects praise Goldfinger’s buildings. His Trellick Tower, which was once threatened with demolition, has it been awarded landmark status.

Avery Trufelman:
This divide, this hatred from the public and love from designers and architects, tends to be the narrative around buildings like Goldfinger’s, which is to say gigantic imposing buildings made of concrete. What some people refer to as brutalist architecture.

Roman Mars:
A lot of folks beyond the creator of James Bond, love to hate them.

Sarah Ramsey:
We are in Wurster Hall, which to my great dismay and frustration, is often considered the worst building on campus or Wurster Hall, more like worst.

Avery Trufelman:
I met up with Sarah Briggs Ramsey in Wurster Hall, a brutalist building at UC Berkeley.

Sarah Ramsey:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been locking up my bike outside and I overhear undergrads walking with their parents and going, ironically, this is the architecture school and it’s the ugliest building on campus.

Roman Mars:
Yup. Wurster Hall is the architecture school. Sarah completed her master’s there.

Sarah Ramsey:
Buildings like this are pretty pervasive across most American and Canadian campuses.

Avery Trufelman:
Yeah, there was a big bulky, concrete building on the campus where I went to college and I hated when I had to go through it. It just reminded me of a bunker or a bomb shelter. These big concrete buildings just like bummed me out.

Adrian Forty:
Absolutely. I mean it, it has these connotations of, you know, Soviet-era construction, sometimes third-world construction, all these negative associations.

Avery Trufelman:
This is professor Adrian Forty. Author of the excellent book “Concrete And Culture”. He’s been researching concrete for around 10 years now.

Adrian Forty:
It has a bad name.

Roman Mars:
Apart from aesthetic criticisms, concrete buildings, present environmental concerns.

Adrian Forty:
Lost these buildings were built at a time when energy was cheap and they use up an awful lot of energy to heat and cool them.

Roman Mars:
Concrete buildings were built with the illusion of plenty that we will always have enough energy to build and heat and cool these massive, inefficient structures.

Avery Trufelman:
As harsh as it looks, concrete is an utterly optimistic building material. Arguably too optimistic.

Adrian Forty:
Really from the 1920s, it was seen as being the material that would change the world. It had the potential to build things in a way that hadn’t been seen before.

Avery Trufelman:
Concrete was this material that seemed boundless, readily available in vast quantities, and could create massive spaces, unlike any other material. So concrete sprang up everywhere.

Adrian Forty:
It’s the second most heavily consumed product in the world.

Avery Trufelman:
The only thing we consume more of than concrete is water.

Roman Mars:
We use concrete for sidewalks and bridges, tunnels, and highways and of course for giant buildings.

Adrian Forty:
Whether we’re talking about stadia or auditoria.

Avery Trufelman:
Or condominia or gymnasium or planetaria.

Roman Mars:
So, historically government programs all over the world loved concrete.

Adrian Forty:
Particularly in Soviet Russia, but also later in Europe and North America, it was used for welfare state projects.

Avery Trufelman:
Concrete presented the most efficient way to house huge numbers of people. And philosophically it was seen as humble, capable, and honest. Concrete was just out there and all of its rough glory, not hiding behind any paint or layers saying, here I am, love me or hate me.

Roman Mars:
And as concrete buildings came to signify humility, honesty, and integrity, they were erected all over the world as housing projects, courthouses, schools, churches, hospitals, and city halls.

Chris Grimley:
You’ll stand outside and a tour bus will go by and there’ll be “Ladies and gentlemen voted the most ugliest building in the world – Boston City Hall. How do you compete with that?”

Avery Trufelman:
Chris Grimly is up against a lot, but he’s trying to restore Boston City Hall’s reputation.

Chris Grimley:
My name is Chris Grimly. I’m with my fellow heroic people. Mark Pasnik and Michael Kubo.

Avery Trufelman:
Chris, Mark, and Michael have embarked on what they call the Heroic Project, chronicling the concrete structures in and around Boston.

Roman Mars:
Rather than referring to these concrete buildings as “brutalist”, they prefer the term “heroic” because like so many superheroes, these structures have the best, most noble intentions but are sorely misunderstood.

Avery Trufelman:
Also, just generally, “brutalism” is a big broad label that gets used inconsistently in architecture. People tend to disagree on one precise definition.

Roman Mars:
The name “brutalism” also just sounds intense even though it’s not actually related to brutality.

Chris Grimley:
It comes from “béton brut”, which is a French term for raw concrete.

Avery Trufelman:
In any case to these guys, “heroic” feels like a better term, especially in Boston, where concrete architectures swooped in and saved the day.

Chris Grimley:
You’d have to situate Boston in the late fifties-1960s. It is America’s first city. Well, it is America’s most historic city.

Roman Mars:
Again, not really, but I get your point.

Chris Grimley:
And yet it finds itself in the doldrums.

Roman Mars:
Boston, like a lot of other American cities, was plagued by loss of manufacturing jobs and white flight to the suburbs. And for decades, Boston had the highest property taxes in the nation and almost no development.

Chris Grimley:
There is this recognition from civic authorities that something needs to be done and something needs to be done quickly.

Avery Trufelman:
So Boston sets an agenda to make the city great again with big soaring, capable, thoroughly modern buildings made, of course, out of concrete.

Roman Mars:
And though some of these buildings were celebrated, others were really not.

Chris Grimley:
What we call the third rail of Boston Concrete Modernism is City Hall.

Avery Trufelman:
When Boston City Hall was built in 1968, critics were put off by this concrete style. It was called alienating and cold. And since it was a government building, this criticism became impossible to remove from politics.

Roman Mars:
Boston City Hall became a political pond. Mayors and city council members kept trying to win public support with promises to get rid of the building like John Tobin did when he ran for city council.

John Tobin:
Hi everybody. This is Jon Tobin. Thanks for visiting www.votejohntobin.com. Here we are on City Hall Plaza in front of Boston City Hall. I’m not an architect, but I know bad architecture when I see it. This is a bad building and I think we can do a lot by knocking this building down.

Avery Trufelman:
Former Mayor Thomas Menino actually started a study to really look into tearing it down.

Thomas Menino:
It turned out, as a result of this study, that you would need something like a nuclear grade weapon basically to destroy this building because it was so heavily overbuilt in concrete.

Roman Mars:
And so when they couldn’t tear down City Hall, officials chose to ignore it.

Thomas Menino:
People that occupied the building for decades and decades didn’t like it, and so they didn’t invest money into the building and effectively wanted to see the building go away.

Avery Trufelman:
This is called active neglect and it happens with a lot of concrete buildings. They are intentionally unrepaired, unrenovated, and uncared for.

Roman Mars:
Which only makes the building more awkward and then more hated and then more ignored and creates this vicious cycle where the public hate of Boston City Hall feeds itself.

Thomas Menino:
And then the discussion in years on really became about what the original architect had done wrong, as if this were not a failure of maintenance, but a failure of the initial design.

Avery Trufelman:
When people built these mammoth concrete structures, no one really thought about maintenance. They seem to be indestructible.

Adrian Forty:
In the early days of concrete, people assume that this was an everlasting material that wouldn’t need any attention at all and that’s wrong. We know that it does need to be looked after. It does deteriorate. It does decay.

Avery Trufelman:
But it can be hard to tell when concrete is decaying.

Adrian Forty:
If you think of brick and timber, the decay takes place on the surface of them, but with concrete, the deterioration is internal.

Roman Mars:
Concrete deteriorates chemically from the inside out. Part of this has to do with the metal reinforcements that help hold up most concrete buildings, the rebar, where it can rust and deteriorate the overall structure.

Avery Trufelman:
But Adrian Forty says, tearing them down is not the answer.

Adrian Forty:
Because as soon as you tell them down, then you have a problem. First of all, what you do with the detritus that’s left. And secondly, you’ve got to replace them with something else and use up a whole lot more energy and create a lot more CO2 in building something in their place.

Avery Trufelman:
They already used up all that energy when they were made. They’re already there.

Roman Mars:
We can adapt these buildings to make them greener and make them more appealing places to be by adding windows, for example. But basically, Professor Forty things we can all develop the capacity to love these concrete brutes in all their hulking glory.

Adrian Forty:
Yeah, sure. People can learn to love anything, but you know, as with any art form, whether it’s opera or painting or literature, the more you know about it, the more you’ll get out of it, the more you’ll appreciate it.

Avery Trufelman:
And this is especially true of concrete buildings. Architecture students appreciate them because they know that concrete actually requires a hell of a lot of skill and finesse to work with.

Adrian Forty:
To do architecture in concrete is proof that you are really are an architect. It’s the test of being an architect.

Avery Trufelman:
For, the concrete building, every little detail needs to be calculated in advance. Concrete is wildly intimidating to work with. Once you pour it, there’s no going back

Adrian Forty:
With a concrete building. It’s like the result of an immaculate conception. The whole thing is an integral monolithic hole and it has to be right.

Roman Mars:
Aside from the interesting design challenges it poses, concrete itself, as a material, can be subtly beautiful if you look closely.

Sarah Ramsey:
What we think of as just a monolithic, consistent homogenous texture, is actually really rich and has a lot of interest when you actually go up to it and consider it.

Avery Trufelman:
Sarah Briggs Ramsey, the one I spoke with at Berkeley’s Wurster Hall, did a year-long project traveling around the world looking at concrete buildings in Europe and Asia and South and North America.

Sarah Ramsey:
To create a global comparison of one material that I think is sort of under-considered. It’s like the background of all the cities, but no one actually stands to look.

Avery Trufelman:
We call the city “a concrete jungle” to talk about the artificialness of the urban landscape. But concrete can actually be a very natural expression of the environment. Concrete’s color and texture can be dictated by local climate, local earth, and local rock.

Sarah Ramsey:
This is the Harvard Science Center on the Harvard campus and it’s got a very purple-y, like really pronounced purple-y color, and that’s the ground from the site.

Roman Mars:
Concrete can also be an expression of local style and custom, like how UK concrete has big, thick textured chunks of rock. While Japanese concrete is very fine and flat.

Avery Trufelman:
But the beauty of concrete architecture is all the better when you can just observe the buildings, like pieces of sculpture, without actually having to live and work in them which brings in concrete, surprising ally – photography.

Adrian Forty:
Concrete looks good in photographs.

Roman Mars:
It provides this kind of neutral background.

Adrian Forty:
It provides a wonderful setting for people’s skin tones, color of clothes.

Roman Mars:
Fashion photographers realize this first, and then pockets of the internet started to appreciate these concrete buildings.

Adrian Forty:
There are lots of these blogs of which show a kind of extraordinary enthusiasm for concrete.

Avery Trufelman:
Photography is allowing a new audience of non-architects to appreciate these buildings for their strong lines, their crisp shadows, and increasingly, the idealism they embody.

Adrian Forty:
They represent a set of ideas about the state of the world on what the future was imagined to be, that we want to preserve. We should remember what people were thinking 50 years ago. We tear these buildings down, we will lose all of that.

Roman Mars:
Architecture, whether we want to admit it or not, has this sort of shelf life. A time after which buildings fall out of fashion and then are allowed to fall apart.

Avery Trufelman:
Back in the 1960s, Victorian-style buildings were considered hideous, falling apart, impossible to repair, and we were tearing batches of them down. All the while erecting big concrete buildings. But enough Victorians were saved that today they are these beautiful, lovingly restored treasures.

Roman Mars:
Brutalist, heroic, whatever you want to call it. Concrete architecture now finds itself at a potential inflection point. Too outdated to be modern, too young to be classic. And a small but growing band of architects, architecture enthusiasts, and preservationists would like us to just wait a bit and see. Maybe with a little time and love, we might discover some architectural diamonds in the rough that we just can’t see right now

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